Marsha stands at the corner of 123rd Street and Madison Avenue with her shopping cart. Marsha is on her day off. She is very sure she is walking in the direction of a new grocery store in her neighborhood. It is out of the way. It is called Food Town. There is nothing special about Food Town. Marsha does not mind going out of the way and passing other grocery stores that are equally as good as Food Town. Food Town is twelve blocks away from Marsha’s house. She thinks that long walks are good for the body, which is true. Walking strengthens your heart, tones your bum, boosts vitamin D levels, and helps prevent dementia. So says her most recent issue of Healthy Living Magazine. She subscribed weekly to the zine two months ago, along with Cooking Light, Real Simple, National Geographic, and Time. These are her most recent subscriptions. She also subscribes to The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Better Homes and Gardens, and Good Housekeeping. Marsha’s magazines and papers are her way of keeping up with current events and trends. She does not like to watch the news. Criminals and natural disasters are destroying peoples’ lives on the news. Babies die in house fires on the news. Planes crash on the news. It is too much for Marsha. She does not see the value in hearing about these travesties when she can offer nothing to fix them. She will read about them if they come up in one of her subscriptions, but only so that she does not become ignorant.

Marsha stands on the corner of 120th and Madison, waiting for the light to change. There is a homeless man propped up against a building holding an empty coffee cup. She pulls out a dollar from her pocket. Cosmo says good deeds always come around.

*       *       *

Takashi is in a classroom. A lesson is being taught about something he will not use tomorrow. He is not sure why he is here. He has nothing better to do. Takashi thinks he is here to study the female reproductive system. Surely this information will be useful to him at some point in his life. Important components of the female reproductive system are the vulva, vagina, uterus, clitoris, myometrium, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Takashi is in the 10th grade and “vagina” is still a very funny word to his classmates. He does not think most of the people in his class know what a clitoris is.

He learned what a clitoris was at a friend’s sleepover – birthday party in 7th grade. He was the only boy at the party and the girls were reading aloud columns of Cosmopolitan. One girl read aloud, “For most women, clitoral stimulation from oral sex is the easiest way for them to climax, says Dr. Abrams.”

As a teacher explains the functions of ovaries, Takashi relives this uncomfortable experience. He remembers wishing he had just sent a birthday card with money in it instead of attending the party. He went to the party after his mother insisted. The birthday girl was a family friend. He did not know any of the people she invited; they were all her classmates. The girls were nice to Takashi but he could not contribute much to their conversations. This had nothing to do with gender; he just did not have much to say about most things. He participated in only one round of “Would You Rather” before retreating to the book he brought with him: Botany: Omnis Herba.

Nothing interests Takashi more than botany. He is fascinated by plant life. Takashi read in a recent study that plants scream when they are harmed. “Harm” meant plucking, pruning, or picking. Plants try to survive just as much as people do. Oleanders are poisonous flowers. When ingested they cause severe stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and even death. Baobab trees have fire-resistant bark and often live for thousands of years. Cactuses have spikes to keep things away. Plants seek out the sun. Their armor and defense mechanism is in support of their survival. Takashi believes that this means plants want to live. He thinks that life should be valued by an organism’s will to live. He finds that most people measure value of life by sentience, which Takashi finds pointless. There is no possible way to know if anything else has emotions. He could only ever know how he feels. Takashi is empathetic and polite toward people. There is no one he especially likes and no one he especially dislikes. He might love his parents. They sustain him more than anything ever has. Takashi knows “love” as wanting something to be a part of his existence. Love is the water in the pipes of his apartment. Love is food in the fridge. Love is his bed.

Takashi has to go to work after school. He is a cashier at his mother’s recently opened grocery store. It is a quick walk from school. The store’s clientele mostly consists of former hippies and people who juice.

Class is over in five minutes. The teacher says that there are different regions of the uterus. There is the upper part called the fundus, and its body is the corpus. The zygote is embedded in the corpus. There, it is nourished and allowed to develop until birth.

*       *       *

There is a plant in Central Park. It is small and close to the ground. There is a swollen bulb at its end that reaches for the sun. Its premier bloom is moments away. Once it is mature, it will send its love notes with pollinators to spread its genetic material.

*       *       *

Marsha has been in Food Town for twenty minutes now. Her grocery list consists of brown rice, wild rice, basmati rice, sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, mozzarella, parmesan, ten grain bread, cinnamon raisin bread, rye, sesame bagels, whole wheat bread, red onion, green onion, spanish onion, spaghetti, penne, macaroni, cabbage, asparagus, basil, avocado, tomato, apples, bananas, grapes, strawberries, lemons, oranges, blackberries, blueberries, and tofu. Marsha has been a vegetarian for nine months. In an old issue of Real Simple, she read that many more people were becoming vegetarians to cleanse and lose weight. Marsha is seven pounds away from her goal. Nine months ago she was about fifty-three pounds overweight. Marsha is twenty-nine years old and looking to get involved in a serious relationship. She figures Mr. Right will come around once she is a size six.

Marsha owns a flower shop on 99th Street and Park Avenue. She takes Thursdays off and comes in late on Saturdays. Her flower shop is called Marsha’s Petals. It is of average size. Five people work in the shop. She has owned it for a year. Being a florist has been Marsha’s lifelong dream. When she was a little girl, she often picked the dandelions that grew in her backyard. Once, she presented the dandelions to her father, telling him that she had picked all of the yellow flowers in the yard for him. Yellow was his favorite color. He thanked her, then told her that they were only weeds. He explained that weeds are pests. They are plants that grow where they are unwanted. They compete with desirable plants for nutrients and sunlight. Marsha did not understand what made a flower less of a flower. She was sad that there were no flowers in her backyard. Her father took her to a gardening utility store and bought seeds for Poppy, Hydrangea, and Black-Eyed Susan. They spent the day planting the flowers and she decided then that she wanted to plant flowers forever.

Marsha thinks about a big order of flowers she has to place for a wedding. This will be her first wedding order. She wishes she was married. She has not been in a committed relationship in three years. Until recently, there has not been time for anything besides getting Marsha’s Petals up and running. Tomorrow night she has a date with a friend of a friend. They are going to dinner. She does not have any date-night clothes. She will go clothes shopping once she drops her groceries off at home.

*       *       *

The woman Takashi is ringing up tells him she means to make guacamole tonight. She read a recipe in Cooking Light that is only sixty-five calories per serving. She asks Takashi if he knows about the avocado shortage. The New York Times had an article about it. Takashi does not care for small talk but makes an effort to indulge customers for the sake of his mother’s business. As he bags her groceries, he asks the woman if she knows that avocados are fruits. She seems intrigued by this. She asks him if he is sure—avocados are not sweet like most fruits. Takashi tells her that vegetables don’t have seeds and that tomatoes are also a fruit. The woman says that she thinks she read that somewhere in a magazine, but Takashi thinks she is lying because she does not want to appear ignorant. He is done packing her groceries. He tells her to have a nice day. She says “Same to you.”

Takashi has to take the train home. He changes from his uniform to his street clothes before leaving work. He is wearing a graphic tee with a tree in the center, a jacket, blue jeans, and boots. It is raining heavily outside. The news said there was a flash flood warning. Takashi zips up his jacket, hoists his backpack over his shoulder, then walks through the automatic door, readying his umbrella.

Soon after Takashi begins his walk to the train station, he sees the woman he talked to about the avocados. She has two large Macy’s bags in either hand. She is wearing flats, a t-shirt, and jeans. No umbrella. She looks miserable as she walks briskly through the rain with her head down. She is walking in Takashi’s direction. Suddenly, one of the woman’s paper bags falls apart. New clothes spill on to the wet sidewalk. The woman gasps and hurriedly gathers them in her arms. She curses the rain as she examines her other bag to see if it is intact. This bag gushes open as well. The woman begins to cry.

Takashi thinks that he could let her hold his umbrella while he tries to hail her a cab on a rainy day on Lexington Avenue. He begins to decide that this is what he will do, but the woman instead tries to hail a cab herself. She steps out into the street with all her new clothes in her arms and her hair plastered to her face with rain. Just as she steps out into the street from behind parked cars, a taxi lets out a long beep before ramming into her at a speed exceeding the limit. Clothes fly up in the air. The woman hurdles forward. The taxi swerves a bit, but continues on its path. Takashi is frozen for a moment. He looks around, but it is as if nothing has happened. No one but him saw this hit and run. Takashi sprints to the woman in the middle of the street. She is covered in blood. The rain makes it look like she is bleeding from every pore of her body. Cars have stopped behind Takashi and the woman. Takashi pulls out his phone from his backpack. He dials 911 and tells the dispatcher there has been a hit and run on 115th street and Lexington Avenue. The dispatcher instructs him on how to check the victim’s pulse. People are gathering around Takashi and the woman.

Takashi leads his finger from behind her ear to below her jaw. There is a beat. The woman opens her eyes. Takashi asks her if she can hear him. She does not respond. Takashi tells her that he has 911 on the phone and that she is going to be okay. The woman is trying to say something to him. He brings his face closer to hers to hear her better. She says her phone is in her front pocket. Takashi gingerly reaches inside the pocket. The screen is cracked but he can make out a contact list. The woman coughs, and blood spills from her mouth. Takashi gently tilts her head above the ground. The woman says, “We would have been friends.” Takashi tells her they will be, but feels like he is lying. This woman lies bloody on the asphalt but she does not cry or scream. She holds eye contact with him, her face covered in betrayal.

Takashi is drawn into the dying woman. This was so clearly not part of her day’s plan. Takashi wants to touch her in a way to make her understand that it will be okay even if she does not see tomorrow. He wants to take the fear out of her and replace it with contentment. The woman starts to chuckle. “I haven’t been this near to anyone in a while.” Takashi tells her she should not speak, as it seems to cause her pain. He thinks she’s crying but her tears are mixed with blood and rain. “Do you believe in God?” she asks. He has never answered this question before. “I don’t know. I don’t believe in anything. I believe that we exist just to exist. I don’t think we exist to lead lives by His rules. I think we are here just for ourselves.” The woman opens her mouth to respond but coughs up more blood. She is short of breath.

“Hold me.”

She is shaking.

He lays down beside her and extends an arm over her without letting its dead weight fall. Tears are behind Takashi’s eyes. He does not know how comfort this woman in what may be her last moments.

“Hold me.”

Takashi is unaware that this woman doesn’t know she that she is going to die. His mouth is dry and he wants to vomit but if he has a soul she needs it to be strong. He decides that he will have a soul for the stranger.

And so it is born into him. Kicking and screaming into being like all living things. It unravels through him looking for light, extending itself through the tears that slide down his face.

Takashi can’t know that this intense pain he feels is the woman’s first love.

Her eyes are closing. “Hold me.”

 *       *       *

The plant’s bloom escapes human ears. Its petals burst open and kiss the sky, grateful for its rain. It dances in the wind. Once the rain stops, pollinators will zip through air and accept the sweet nectar the plant has to offer.

This does not happen. The plant is snatched from the earth. It transforms from a plant to a dying gift. Its captor is without remorse and will never recall the life it stole.

*       *       *

 Takashi does not own a black tie. He borrows one from his father. He is going to a funeral today. He has never been to a funeral before. His father asks him if he would like him to go, but Takashi prefers to go alone.

Takashi thinks it is too beautiful a day for a funeral, but Marsha would have liked it. She was a florist. Marsha would have thought the sunshine was wonderful for plants, and that the breeze was good for pollination. There are a lot of people at the funeral, all of them family and friends. Takashi is neither of these things to Marsha. Takashi is simply the last person to have heard her speak. Takashi will hear Marsha’s last words everyday for the rest of his life. She thought she was eternal. She laid there feeling herself die in the street and thought she would see tomorrow.

It was then, as the service began, that Takashi realized how wrong he was about love. Love was the lemonade Takashi’s mother made for him when she was home. Love was his father remembering to cut the crust off a sandwich he made for Takashi for no reason. Love was what Takashi’s mother and father shared on a bed when they desperately tried to become one and threw Takashi into this troubled existence.

 

Anastasia Warren is  a first year Photography major. Her poem “Circulate” is also published in this issue. She often approaches her visual work with a narrative in mind. “I feel that a good story, true or not, can say a lot about an individual and their culture.”